How we got started saving orangutans

Our whole family was a fan of Steve Irwin and we were greatly saddened when he passed away in September 2006, Daniel in particular.  It wasn’t long after Steve died Daniel, watched a documentary by Kim Watkins, ‘Saving Orangutans’, and was motivated by the issues the orangutans were facing and said to mum and dad, “Who is going to be saving orangutans now that Steve Irwin has gone?”.

It was a question for which mum and dad didn’t have an answer but little did we know, Daniel wasn’t prepared to accept nothing as an answer…

Be Careful What You Wish For

Daniel has cerebral palsy and most of the time is confined to a wheelchair.  On the inside Daniel was still an energetic 10 year old just trapped in a body that didn’t perform as well as other people.

Starlight Foundation - How we got startedIn 2007 Daniel was approached by the Starlight Foundation who wanted to grant Daniel a wish.   We were delighted at the prospect that this posed not just for Daniel but to our family as a whole.  Ideas were rushing through our head like, a trip to Disney Land, a new computer for Daniel, maybe even a new car to carry his wheelchair, etc., however mum and dad made us realise this was Daniel’s wish and we needed to give him the opportunity to make this decision himself.

Mum and dad talked to Daniel and I to explain about this wonderful opportunity and to talk through some of the many options that may be available to him.

He listened to what they had to say and then paused.

“I want to save the orangutan in Borneo”.

A Selfless Wish

We were all shocked.

“Are you sure?”, Dad said.

“What about a trip to Disneyland or a new car… for daddy?”, Dad said in a pleading voice.

“No dad, I want to save the orangutans in Borneo”, Daniel said.

Our next step was to call up The Starlight Foundation and advise them of the decision for which Daniel had made.  The telephone conversation was certainly interesting…

He wants to do what?

After several days of digesting Daniel’s request mum received a telephone call from The Starlight Foundation to advise, in their history, they had never had a child who wanted a selfless wish and were really shocked.  In fact, we were told they had boardroom meetings to discuss the impact of Daniel’s wish and how touched they were at its nature.

Although The Starlight Foundation tried hard to accommodate Daniel’s wish we ended up settling on a compromise of a trip to Australia Zoo which, in itself was wonderful.

He had a plan…

Irrespective of the trip to Australia Zoo Daniel was still determined on saving orangutans and mum and dad realised that his hearts desire had not been met.  They talked with him and found a way he can make a difference.

The Orangutan Project LogoWe located the website of The Orangutan Project (TOP) who offered a service that allowed people to adopt an orangutan for just $55 per year so, using his own money, he adopted an orangutan.  After a while, Daniel started talking with some of his friends and in a short time we realised there were quite a few people who were adopting an orangutan in Daniels name.

Daniel then said to himself, “I’m going to raise $10,000 to save the orangutan” and spoke to the Principal of his school and designed an ‘orang-a-thon’ which is a dua-thalon styled event for which the children at the school gain sponsorship for every lap either on foot or on bike.

The event raised a massive $5,500 and Daniel was on his way.

National Children’s Ambassador

Dad then contacted TOP and let them know that he was Daniel’s dad and if they were getting any orangutan adoptions that mentioned ‘Daniel Clarke’.

The response was, “I am so pleased you made contact, in fact we have”.

It wasn’t long after that we received a phone call from TOP advising they would like to offer Daniel the title of National Children’s Ambassador for The Orangutan Project for all of the fund raising and awareness raised for the plight of the orangutan.

It was a title for which he has since generated a huge amount of media.

Luck Favours the Prepared

In May, 2008, The Starlight Foundation asked our family if we would like to see a Rugby Union Football match between the Wallabies and Wales at our local stadium and, if they won their game, would we like to meet the Wallabies in the dressing room after the match – the answer was obviously ‘yes’!

Luckily the Wallabies won their match and we were escorted down to the dressing room to meet them and congratulate them on a job well done.  Daniel was in his wheelchair when, to our surprise, we realised we were standing right next to our then Prime Minister John Howard.

Saving orangutans with John Howard
LtR: PM John Howard, Rodney Clarke, Daniel Clarke, William Clarke, Penny Clarke, John Connelly (Wallabies Coach)

Daniel, realising he had a great opportunity, asked mum, “Can I tell Mr Howard what I am trying to do with the Orangutan?” for which mum agreed.  Dad introduced himself and all of us to Mr Howard who was very nice and friendly.

He knelt down beside Daniel while he slowly explained to him about his quest to Save the Orangutan of Borneo and Sumatra and throughout the whole time Mr Howard listened intensely.  On standing up, Mr Howard thanked Daniel for sharing his quest with him and turned to dad to ask if he had a business card.  Dad passed Mr Howard a business card for which he wrote on the back, ‘Daniel, orangutan, $10,000’ and said, “I can’t promise anything but I will be in touch”.

It was only six weeks later when we received this letter  from our Prime Minister advising that after meeting Daniel he is pledging $500,000 over four years to an American Non Government Organisation to help save the orangutan.

CLICK HERE for the letter from John Howard to Daniel Clarke

Daniel was thrilled, really thrilled…  but that was only the start !